From the Wasted to the Circular City

‘The Wasted City’ book suggests a new scenario for our urban life - circularity, one that is environmental as much as political, social and economical.

The latest publication from CITIES Foundation,‘The Wasted City’, sets the spotlight on some of the innovative and inspiring projects throughout the world that are contributing to circular city-making. On May 22nd, at Pakhuis De Zwijger, ‘The Wasted City’ was officially launched. More than just a simple book presentation, the event provided space for conversation around the growing theme of the circular city. An international line-up of experts and academics provided insights and stimulated discussions surrounding various notions of circularity, such as ‘the death of ownership’, ‘circularity as a mean to systemic change’ and ‘niche spaces in need of regulation’.

The past few years have shown an exciting recognition of the circular economy. Innovative enterprises are springing up all over the world; from the ‘Library of Things’ in London, tool sharing in Toronto, to even community fridges in Galdakao, Spain. In Amsterdam, CITIES Foundation is works on simplifying our complex world. It is what helped us to survive and thrive – the ability to work out what ‘things’ you want to eat, and what wants to eat you. But it is much more difficult for us to appreciate how, for example, our choice of a phone here in the Europe impacts deforestation in Central Africa. Yet, this way of thinking is critical to the transition towards more circular cities. There is no such thing as simple cause and effect. No solution straight-forward. Despite the modern romanticization of the innovative and sleek start-up, simply developing an app will not save the world. Rather, we must find alternatives to address the ‘full-stack’ of problems.

©CITIES Foundation

During the book launch evening, throughout each presentation and conversation, a common theme continued to be reiterated – we need to think differently if we are to embrace the circular economy – it is all about complexity. The answer seems simple, yet the process involves a web of challenges that must be addressed. This complexity is too great to be tackled alone. Therefore, active and open discussions are important to share and expand our knowledge on these intricate challenges. Of course, we have to celebrate and share the progress and success of projects that are pioneering in the transition towards circular cities. However, we must ensure that the stories of these initiatives are not simplified into a sappy title to stop you scrolling down your Facebook feed. We need to take a deep dive into complexity – to go below the iceberg, to explore the systems behind the success.

©CITIES Foundation

Scott Kessler, director of business at Brooklyn MicroGrid, joined the discussion all the way from New York City, pointing out that the knowledge exchange on circularity and complexity should be set at a global scale. Taking us deeper, into the less visible inner-workings of the enterprise, Kessler explained how the innovative technology of ‘blockchian’ has been incorporated to enable the decentralization of energy supply. Clearly, we must not be under any illusions here; these discussions are neither glamorous nor sexy. Yet, they are necessary if we are to understand how such solutions can be suitably up-scaled from the hyper-local, and adapted to appropriately fit within the equal complexity of another context.

However, technologies such as ‘blockchain’ can only be but one part of the solution. Moreover, we certainly cannot rely on such monumental developments to make circularity ‘simpler’, they are far too slow and unpredictable. Rather, we must take active steps towards improving our social infrastructure – the links and relationships within and between communities. We are stronger together. Communities drive change. With these enhanced links, ideas can grow and movements start.

©CITIES Foundation

Projects such as the Brighton Waste House and WASTED embed circular education at the core of their community orientated approach. Committing to discussions and education will usher the ‘I’ generation to become the ‘we’ generation; the ‘waste’ generation to the ‘green’ generation. Therefore, these types of forums for discussions on the complexity of the circular economy are vital if the notion of a circular economy is to become a reality. Only through community can we put our waste in the right place and overcome ‘the Wasted city’.

The Wasted City publication could be ordered online here.

*This publication originally appeared on CITIES Foundation. You can access it here

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